7 March 2024

Dear RCSI community,

While February was the shortest month of the calendar year, it certainly was a tremendously busy and productive period for RCSI Fellows and Members.

At the start of the month, it was my great pleasure to host the 2024 Charter Week programme here in RCSI. Always a highlight of the surgical calendar, it was terrific to meet and connect with so many of you, particularly those of you who travelled internationally to join us.

Attendees at Charter Week enjoyed four varied symposia under the thematic banner of ‘Rising to Challenges in a Changing World’. Over the course of Thursday, 8 February and Friday, 9 February, the symposia explored a range of topics including the effects of global and environmental changes on surgery and surgical practices, transitions and career pathways in surgery, crisis management, as well as looking to the role of new technologies in Irish surgery.

The calibre of talks and presentations at the symposia was fantastic and this was true too of our three keynote talks: the Johnson & Johnson Lecture, delivered by Michael J. Dowling; the 31st Carmichael Lecture, delivered by Fergal Keane; and the 99th Abraham Colles Lecture, delivered by Professor David Nott.

On Thursday, 8 February, Michael Dowling spoke about Leading Healthcare into Transformational Change. In a very insightful lecture, Michael drew upon his vast experience to identify a number of serious challenges facing our healthcare systems and practitioners and set out six major principles to address this. Over the course of his talk, he spoke of the challenges presented by the ‘tsunami’ of ageing, the acceleration of mental health problems as well as the loss of trust in science and medicine. Above all, he drew attention to what he considered to be the greatest challenge, which is modifying the delivery of healthcare to ensure equitable access. Those present listened intently as Michael outlined the principles and recommendations he believes will lead to transformational change and ultimately address the challenges he had identified. Hugely pertinent to those in our community who are leading systemic changes, I am pleased that you can now watch the talk here ‘on demand’.   

Those present on Friday, 9 February were privileged to hear from Fergal Keane, OBE and BBC Special Correspondent, who delivered the 31st Carmichael Lecture and spoke about The Necessity of Hope: Finding Light in a World of Pain. At the outset of his truly memorable talk, Fergal quipped about not living up to his bio, but this is certainly not the case. Having spent the best part of the last 30 years covering civil war, genocide and famine as a journalist, Fergal shared his unique perspective on ‘hope’. He shared his insights into the emotional impact of witnessing human suffering based upon his time reporting from 1980’s Belfast during the Troubles, to the Rwandan genocide, to the recent war in Ukraine. He remembered speaking with people – from an interview with Nelson Mandela to meeting with Beata, a survivor of genocide. Fergal’s message to those of us listening in the audience was about the ability to remain hopeful by focusing on the courage of individuals and by recognising the power of individual agency even in the darkest of times. If you were not present, I highly recommend that you take the time to watch it back online now.

In a reflection of the times that we are living in, Professor David Nott, who delivered the 99th Abraham Colles Lecture, did so remotely as he was working with Médicins Sans Frontières in Gaza. Through his lecture, entitled Leaving a Legacy in War Zones, Professor Nott recounted his motivation, experiences and determination to use his surgical skills to help the victims of conflict. He also reflected on how his initial instinct to make an immediate difference began to evolve as he witnessed the power of training and upskilling other surgeons to operate on war wounds, resulting in the establishment of the David Nott Foundation as a charity for this purpose. The work he has done to develop training courses such as Hostile Environment Surgical Training is incredible, and you can learn more by watching back his talk here.

Charter Week also provided the opportunity to recognise and acknowledge members of our community. The presentation of a variety of awards and medals brought a celebratory note to the air. It was my pleasure to present the PROGRESS Women in Surgery Fellowship supported by Johnson & Johnson MedTech to Ms Ola Ahmed on Thursday, 8 February. Meanwhile, at the Charter Day dinner it was my sincere privilege to bestow an Honorary Fellowship to Professor Hannah McGee, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at RCSI as well as Michael J. Dowling, President and CEO of Northwell Health.

Earlier in the week, the Clinical Guidance for Surgical Hubs was published. Commissioned by the Health Service Executive (HSE) and produced by the Elective Surgical Hubs Clinical Design Group (ESHCDG) chaired by Professor Deborah McNamara, RCSI Vice-President and co-lead of the National Clinical Programme in Surgery, and Professor Frank Keane, Past President, RCSI. Tasked with considering how the opportunity for additional capacity for surgery – as provided by through the establishment of new surgical hubs – might be delivered in the most sustainable and impactful manner possible, the ESHCDG produced a thorough document that covers aspects including patient pathways, sustainability, infrastructure, staffing, patient safety, referrals, escalation plans and clinical governance. While it relates directly to the opportunities arising from the implementation of six health regions within the Irish healthcare system, it provides insights and recommendations that will be of interest to all Fellows and Members.

Another aspect of Charter Week that is of universal relevance to our community was the focus on green surgery. On Thursday, 8 February I was truly privileged to launch RCSI’s Sustainability Principles and Practice in Surgery Roadmap. The Roadmap is the culmination of the work of RCSI Council’s Sub-Committee for Sustainable Surgery, which I established in June 2022 and which has been very ably chaired by Professor Camilla Carroll. The document includes a review of best practice, seeks to enhance the collective knowledge of surgeons and identifies a roadmap toward the delivery a leaner and low-carbon model of surgical care. It's an issue that I am passionate about, and I was particularly pleased with the clear and tangible recommendations made by the sub-committee, which provide a way forward for us all – both as a collective and as individuals. 

As I write and reflect on what was a fantastic event, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to all those who spoke and contributed to the programme of talks, workshops and parallel sessions, which were engaging and energising, as well as to those who worked diligently in the background to ensure the smooth organisation of a very busy schedule.  

In mid-February, our thoughts turned to the forthcoming Council Election, which will be held on Wednesday, 5 June 2024. You will have received notification that RCSI Council selected Professor Michael Kerin as the Council’s nominee for Vice-President of RCSI at its February meeting. He joins Professor Deborah McNamara, who is Council's nominee to succeed me as RCSI President.

Council assumes a strong leadership role on behalf of the wider Fellows and Members community and the election of Council members provides a unique opportunity for you to contribute to and inform the future of the College. I invite our Fellows to consider submitting your candidature for election and I would urge all of you to get involved and to exercise your vote.

Participation in the election process is a fundamental way to get involved in the College. It is of huge importance and reflects the role that you as an individual can play in informing the future direction of RCSI, its impact and influence as a globally renowned institution.

Finally, I am delighted to share news of a truly significant milestone for RCSI – with the signing of a collaborative agreement with Peninsula Dental School as part of our preparations to recommence undergraduate education in dentistry at RCSI. This partnership will support RCSI in delivering a new undergraduate Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) degree programme, a five-year programme that will be the first community-based undergraduate dentistry degree programme in Ireland. The first student intake will be in September 2025 (subject to regulatory approvals) and the programme will qualify the first cohort of dentists in the summer of 2030.This development is the latest in the long-standing connection between dentistry and RCSI. From 1878-1977, RCSI had an undergraduate dentistry programme and awarded a Licentiate in Dental Surgery (LDSRCSI). Indeed, the first-ever Professor of Dentistry in England or Ireland was appointed at RCSI in 1884, which reflects the strong heritage of RCSI in dental education and training. 140 years later, and half a century since we closed our dental programme, I am pleased to witness the beginning of a new chapter for RCSI, as we return to the education of dentists, which reinforces our on-going commitment to the wider healthcare sector.

With thanks and best wishes,

Professor Laura Viani

RCSI President


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